Strength & Conditioning Training Gear for Runners in 2021
I place a great deal of value on strength training for the runners I coach. Cut the junk miles and use that time to build and maintain a strong foundation in strength! In my coaching books, I often devote full chapters on strength training, as well as strength workouts into associated training plans.
In Hill Running: Survive & Thrive, I stress the importance of strength and conditioning training to improve a runner’s performance when running up and down hills. And in Running Heavy, I also place a huge emphasis on not only building a foundation based on a strength training, but also in using a range of tools to improve speed, acceleration and power. This includes running while dragging tires, pushing sleds, and while wearing a weight vest.
This article lists gear in order of priority, from what I consider must-have items to wish list items. I’ve organized the list with a base assumption that funds are limited and that each amount spent must have maximum impact and the best bang-for-buck for the buyer. You may also want to check out my article on planning a race season and my comprehensive article on home gym equipment and how to build a home gym that you’ll actually use. This includes barbells and some other excellent equipment that takes up a little more space, but is well worth it.
Gear Shopping List for Runners
Must-have Strength & Conditioning Gear
Kettlebell: If I only had the budget for one item of equipment, I’d buy a kettlebell. Even when I owned a CrossFit gym for 5 years and had access to all the equipment I ever wanted at the gym, the one piece of training gear I kept at home was a kettlebell. This one simple item allows you to do all the key strength training you need as a runner. Plus, it’s outstanding for core development, addressing imbalances in your body, and developing power. A kettlebell (or a few) takes up minimal space and is the best bang-for-buck for runners when it comes to strength training equipment for a runner. It’s particularly useful in building core strength, which is extremely valuable to runner’s ability to maintain efficient technique under intensity and over long durations.
It also works very well with Goblet Squats, Tactical Lunges, and Weighted Step-ups. I’ve used kettlebell training extensively with the multi-sport athletes I’ve coached over the years, including ultra marathoners, triathletes, and military athletes.
My go-to kettlebell is a 53lb/24KG Rogue Competition model. My advice is to buy a high quality kettlebell. These are heavy devices and not easy to get rid of. My first few kettlebells have terrible handles and I regret buying them.
Jump Rope: Simple, portable, great for metabolic conditioning (try 5 rounds of 90sec rope skipping + 10 burpees + 10 sit-ups for a great little workout). I have a collection of ropes for different workout types, including a custom RX, a Rogue SR-3, and a Rogue Heavy Rope. For runners, a jump rope is also an automatic reinforcement of proper foot landing position, as well as a great conditioning tool for an efficient foot pull.
Plyo Box: weighted box step-ups, box jumps and more. You can accomplish a lot with a plyo box, or if you’ve got one handy, a nice big rock to jump up on! For runners, plyo boxes work well in combination with sandbags and kettlebells for workouts involving step-ups and climbing simulation. Order an easy screw-together box or make your own. I built a few boxes for my training center over a decade ago and they have been hammered by gym use ever since. I think they’ll last another 10 years! For home use though, I went the easy route and ordered a Rogue Flat Pack Games box. During the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, a few of my clients purchased Rogue Resin Plyo boxes for their new home gyms, primarily because they are stackable and work well in small training spaces.
Nice to Have Strength & Conditioning Gear
Barbell and Squat Stand: it was not easy for my to decide whether I consider this a Must-Have or Nice-to-Have item for this article. If you are serious about improving your running performance, then I’d highly recommend that you have a barbell setup at home, or at least easy once-a-week access to one.
I cover this topic in more detail here, but my general recommendation is a Rogue’s Ohio Bar, S-4 Squat Stands, and some HG Bumpers. If you’ve got some garage space or a spare room, then the Monster Lite Fold Back Racks are awesome.
Sprinter’s Chute: I love sprinter’s chutes! In addition to the resistance element, they are fun to use, and that creates some extra motivation for doing your high intensity work. It’s worth getting two, as you’ll likely want the extra resistance.
The Rogue Slice Sled is my next purchase. You can push it, pull it, and easily store it in a small space. I’ve had a Dog Sled and Fat Boy at the gym I owned. Both were excellent sleds and indestructible, even with heavy gym use. Even with 10 years of use at the gym I built, it has proven indestructible. Well, it destroys people and roads, but not itself! The Rogue Dog Sled 1.2 looks like an outstanding upgrade, with a bunch of cool attachment options. For home use though, I like a smaller footprint for my equipment. For a sled that you’ll pull or drag only (it has not handles to push), then check out the Rogue E Sled. Rogue also offers a more budget-friendly option as well, in their Echo Dog Sled.
Many sleds serve as both a prowler (for pushing) and a sled for dragging. There are also lower profile (easier to store) sleds made just for pulling (with no handle attachments). Rogue’s
Magic Carpet sled is a creative and highly portable option for indoor training.
The S-35E Rogue “E” Sled is a portable outdoors sled in a small form factor that’s capable of supporting a beast of a load.
If you’ve got welding skills or a friend in the business, then you could always custom-fabricate a sled to meet your needs. Here’s one of several good videos out there for building your own in steel as well as an article on building one with wood.
Alternatively, you could also make a sled with an old tire. In the photo below, I’m training with a Fat Boy and an old tire. To create the mounting system for a tire, drill a hole in the tire and insert an eye bolt. Lock if off inside the tire with a locking nut. Use a carabiner attached to a rope or webbing to attach it to the eye bolt on one end and your belt or vest on the other. You can make a belt out of webbing as well. A quick & dirty solution is to just put rope through the tire hole, but you’ll quickly destroy your rope whenever the tire flips onto it, pinning the rope between the tire and the ground.
You can always throw a sandbag on the tire to increase the load/resistance.
Agility Ladder: Great tool for training agility and running technique. You can pick these up fairly cheaply on Amazon, such as this one.
TRX Suspension Trainer: portable, great for business trips and hotel room workouts, lots of cool workouts online, including endurance athlete workouts. You can target every weakness with a TRX. Tip: Bring it to the track and incorporate it into or immediately following a speed session. It makes core training much more interesting than trying to knock out 100 sit-ups after a run session. You may want to check out the similar JungleGym as well.
Sandbag: Endless training opportunities with sandbags. Plus you can substitute them in for barbells in a lot of CrossFit WODs, which I think is even more functional. You can pick up a durable GORUCK sandbag, Rogue Tactical bag or read this guide on how to make you own
Weight vest or weighted ruck: I started my journey with weighted running in preparation for racing the Marathon des Sables, where runners must carry survival gear and food for a week. Actually, I started with weighted running when I was 70lbs overweight back in the 90s and decided to sign up for an Ironman triathlon to lose weight!
Training with a weight vest adds intensity, adversity and resistance. You can use a weight vest for running, jumping and nearly all bodyweight exercises. I don’t recommend trying to swim with it, although I have!
There has been some great innovation in weight vests the past few years and we now have a great collection to select from. I’ve tested the Hyper Vest Pro and like how it moves with me, but doesn’t bounce and rub. Some others to consider:
GORUCK’s Plate Carrier 2.0 offers a different approach from nearly all other weight vests and training plate carriers. It’s a blend between a weight vest and a rucksack, offering the plate holder only on the back.
Rogue’s Plate Carrier is one of my favorites at the moment, as it’s design is very well thought out for burpees, push-ups and other functional training movements.
MiR Pro weighted vest, solid, durable design that scales to a massive load
Condor Sentry Plate Carrier, very good option at a budget price. I’ve trained with this vest for several years, with a homemade lead plate, because that’s all that was available back then!
MiR makes a great short vest, which I like for core-intensive session. MiR also has a rockin’ Women’s Weight Vest, as does Box. Recently, 5.11 released a Tactical Plate Carrier for training. I’m happy to see Rogue selling weight inserts. My heavy weight vest is similar to this, but with a homemade lead insert. This is the vest I used in a Hill Training video I filmed for SEALFIT a few years ago.
And don’t forget to check out GORUCK: they’ve been a leader for years in creating functional, durable rucks and they offer a kit that includes a weight plate, which makes it easier to just grab your weighted ruck and go.
You could also go with a ruck/backpack and fill it with a sandbag or water weight. When I was training for an expedition on Aconcagua in the Andes, I used to do hill repeats (fast hiking) with a 70lb pack filled with water containers. I’d dump the water at the top of the climb and refill the containers from a stream at the bottom.
This was great training for carrying loads up a mountain. The 5.11 Tactical RUSH72 works very well as a large training ruck and is my main travel bag for up to 3-day trips. For shorter trips and lighter, more compact loads, the 5.11 Tactical RUSH24 is a great ruck. I logged countless hours with a Blackhawk rucksack on my back when I prepared for the Epic Charity Challenge in Normandy on D-Day 2018. Here’s an update from one of those training rucks.
Foam Roller: You break it, you fix it. You’ve broken your body down with a combination CrossFit and endurance sport training program (although with smart programming, you should be TOO broken down). Now it’s time to heal it and build it back up. Get a foam roller, the super cool Supernova, and Voodoo X Bands and get busy with some active recovery.
Any more and you’re looking at a home gym setup. If you’ve got space, get all of it! That’s what I did before eventually opening up my own gym. And after I sold my gym, this is exactly what I went back to!
Wish List Items
Once you’ve worked your way through the Must-Haves and Nice-to-Haves, here’s a list you can share with anyone shopping for you for a special occasion!
Trueform Runner (non-motorized treadmill). I’ve tested this one and love it. Generally, I can’t stand treadmills, but that’s not the case with this innovation. It reinforces proper technique, has a much better landing surface than a flat treadmill, and doesn’t feel as terrible as traditional treadmills. I’d still rather run outside, but if running inside is the only way to get it done, then check this out as an option.
Sauna: If I had space, I’d install a full sauna at home. I love these for recovery. There are some options for those of us without the space or budget. The least expensive is to find a friend with a sauna! Next would be to check out a portable version, like this one, which you can find for less than $200. Moving up in budget category (around $1,000) is a 2-person Infrared sauna, like this one. And for something larger/nicer, there’s not much of a top end budget-wise, so if you go super-fancy, be sure to send me a pic, so I can be a little jealous!
I’ll say goodbye for today with a little coaching video. Wishing you the best in your training and adventures!
Jeff Grant is the author of Flow State Runner: Activate a Powerful Inner Coach’s Voice, Hill Running: Survive & Thrive, Run Faster: Unlock Your Speed in 8 Weeks, Running Heavy, and UltraRunning: Ultimate Guide. Based in Switzerland, Jeff is a coach and writer who specializes in mental coaching, peak performance, and transformation. Refer to Jeff’s bio for more information, and please check out Jeff’s Coach & Author page on Facebook.